HEARING voices in your head can be a scary, isolating experience for young people.

But a project in Greenwich is offering a space for youngsters to express themselves, gain support and find they are not alone. Reporter SARAH TROTTER learns more.

EVER wondered what Joan of Arc, Mahatma Gandhi and Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ guitarist John Frusciante have in common?

They are three of millions of people who have heard voices in their heads during their lifetimes.

In fact around eight per cent of young people in the UK experience voices in their heads - a figure which climbs to up to 30 per cent in south London.

However, many are too frightened to speak out as they fear being labelled ‘mad’.

Rachel Waddingham is the manager of Voice Collective at Mind, Camden, which has co-launched a support group for young people in Greenwich.

She told News Shopper: "Lots of important people have heard voices - only a fraction of which end up in the mental health sector.

"It might be like an imaginary friend, or from loneliness or anxiety, but if they have had trauma, it could really cause problems.

"Voices can be quite frightening - telling them their family are going to be hurt or it is their fault that something bad happened in the world."

The phenomenon - including hallucinations and sensory experiences affecting taste and smell - can be a phase brought on by factors such as stress or trauma but can lead to more serious mental health problems if untreated.

Voice Collective has teamed with Greenwich Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to offer Interesting Minds in Woolwich for young people which is a peer support group offering creative activities.

Warm-ups at the workshops include exercises to distract from the voices and focus the mind.

'Brain gym' is a bit like the coordination exercise of rubbing your tummy and patting your head where you draw a triangle with one hand and a square with the other.

Whereas 'the ball' involves young people passing an imaginary ball between their hands to the next person who moulds it into another object such as a scarf or a cat in a creative, dynamic process.

Clinical psychologist at CAHMS Dr Gemma Allison said: "There’s something empowering about being with other young people and being able to talk about it.

"Some voices are about very taboo things which it is very hard to let others know about."

She went on to say some children accused of playing truant are actually struggling with hearing voices which makes a noisy school environment unbearably loud.

Ms Waddingham, who hears voices herself but has learnt to manage them, added: "The group can be like a sanctuary for young people.

"They are not bad or weird or crazy, just going through some difficult stuff.

"My voices talk about me in the third person and kind of narrate.

"It's a bit like having a radio in the background.

"But I’m still able to work all the time and do everything you are meant to do as an adult."

The group for 12 to 18 year olds launched in May last year and meets every Monday from 4.30pm to 5.45pm at The Tramshed, in Woolwich New Road.

The co-founders say south London’s high figures could be due to factors such as having diverse cultural groups - with some cultures more open about talking of voices - but might also be linked to deprivation levels.

To find out more contact Gemma on 020 8331 4170 or email greenwich@voicecollective.co.uk. Further psychological support can be found at CAHMS camhscares.nhs.uk